Health & Education

Peace Offering

Colombia Ex-Combatants return

Mathematics lesson: Colombia's civil war resulted in 220,000 fatalities, 5.7 million people displaced, and 6.7 million people recognized as “victims.“

The aftermath of such a prolonged and bloody conflict naturally extends beyond the disarmament and demobilization of ex-combatants, as Colombia must also reintegrate former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) into society, as per the 2016 peace deal.

In January 2017, nearly 6,300 ex-FARC combatants started to demobilize and 23 transitory areas and seven camps were made available for the now ex-combatants.

Based on the current framework of the Colombian Reintegration Agency (ACR), one of the key elements of the reintegration process is education.

The Colombian government has developed adult learning programs for this reason, offering classes in mathematics and many other subjects to help these citizens assimilate.

Clearly, education plays a fundamental role in the reintegration of the combatants despite the many challenges it involves.

Education can lead to employment and stability, two elements required to properly reintegrate ex-combatants into a society, especially after over 50 years of on-going conflict.

A lack of educational and vocational training opportunities has proven detrimental in earlier reintegration efforts, leading authorities to conclude that comprehensive reintegration is the only way of preventing the rise of new armed groups, and discouraging ex-combatants from getting involved in other illegal activities such as narcotics trafficking.

This danger is clear in the example of Brazilian gang “Primera Comando,” which started recruiting ex-FARC members to expand its drug network and routes. Other armed groups and drug cartels tempt ex-combatants because of the higher salary offered. Recidivism has often been high during previous reintegration processes.

Research from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) also suggests that education is a key pillar for curbing recidivism. One ACR publication highlights the private company Exito Group’s active role in supporting the National Learning Service (SENA) in the hiring and training of 610 participants in the reintegration process.

The most recent data in the ARC publication indicates the increasing importance of education for reintegration process participants between 2011 and 2015, as well as higher employment rates among participants compared to Colombia’s general population.

ACR assigns social workers to each former combatant, who are supported with every practical problem they may face, from opening a bank account and finding healthcare to obtaining an ID card and accessing higher education programs.

The reintegration program is also taking into account trauma generated by the war. In fact, health considerations are arguably the most crucial, given the high number of people affected by PTSD.

It is estimated that nearly 90% of ex-combatants have some kind of psychosocial affliction.

The reintegration process is a huge challenge for Colombia. According to the ACR, data shows that there are around 15,040 people signed up to government reintegration programs, of which 47% are former paramilitaries and 42% are former FARC combatants who demobilized before the peace deal was agreed.

On top of all this, the peace talks between the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) could generate another wave of almost 2,500 combatants entering the reintegration process.

The successful reintegration of these former fighters is vital if the cycle of exclusion and violence is to end, and lessons must be learned if it is to succeed.